It feels like it’s been ages since I’ve been back to Houston.  I had lived there for six years after I graduated from college and before moving back to Dallas.  Minus a quick stopover for a wedding over Memorial Day three years ago, I hadn’t gone back to visit since I moved in January 2013.  I could make up a plethora of excuses - no time, drive was too far, work / friends were too busy - but there aren’t really any good ones.  I didn’t quite expect for the visit back to be as fun or as familiar as it was.

What was supposed to be an easy four hour drive from Dallas to Houston turned into a six hour trip, including almost turning my car into an amphibious vehicle to ford the roads.  There were torrential rain showers (and still are) on the way down south, so much so that the service roads and highway started flooding.  At one point, we saw a truck attempting to pull a VW bug out of a drainage ditch on the shoulder.  I had declined BW’s kind offer to take his truck and was regretting it at this point.

After a rather long detour skirting most of traffic, in celebration of our successful arrival and not flooding my engine, we stopped for dinner at a local cafe that serves deliciously trashy Cajun food in my old neighborhood the Heights.  We ordered beers, po-boys, shoestring fries topped with liquid cheese and roast beef, and boudin balls.  Oh those boudin balls - little round mounds of fried goodness!  If you’ve never had them before, they’re made of ground pork and rice and taste like a southern Thanksgiving dressing.  We kept eating those even though we were stuffed; I’m going to dream about them for weeks.

During the short amount of time we were in Houston, BW and I spent the majority of it in the Heights.  The cute Airbnb we rented was smack dab in the middle of the old neighborhood directly north of downtown, which has exploded with hipsterness that’s borderline obnoxious.  What used to be a “transitioning” neighborhood has fully embraced its “transition” while trying to hold on to as much of its old character as possible.  The Heights that I knew from before was a little bit scary to run in after dark.  Now all of those streets are lined with million-dollar homes with big wraparound porches.  There are now themed bars, gourmet doughnut shops, and artisan ice creameries with lines that wind well into the parking lot.  However, despite all the curated hipsterity (that’s got to be a word, right?) and right before we came back to Dallas, we feasted on crawfish served out of trash bags from a seasonal restaurant located in a repurposed mechanic garage.  It tasted the closest to a backyard crawfish boil that I’ve ever ordered from a “restaurant” even though said “restaurant” had no AC or doors, for that matter.  With plastic chairs and tables and food served on paper trays, it’s more of the Heights that I’m used to.

I’ve spent all this time writing about the food (let’s be honest, that’s a big part of traveling around Texas), but the main reason that we took the trip was to visit old friends and their new babies.  Which makes it sound a little like the babies are their new accessories or newest gadget of the year.  The babies were everything I expected them to be - cute, well-behaved, squeezable, and sweet.  And as adorable and polite as they were (for little boys under the age of 5), they were still overwhelming.  You can’t expect for kids to sit still for more than an hour, even if their mouths are filled with pancakes.  Their schedules are not to be tampered with, like a train, it’s leaving the station whether or not you’re ready.  I’m still bewildered as to how parents do it and maintain their sanity.  I’m working on solving that puzzle and will get back to you.

After the downpour that we had on Friday, the rest of the weekend was beautifully brilliant, humid, and hot.  The air was thick and sans mosquitoes believe it or not (take notes, Dallas).  I had also forgotten that in Houston, you hide out indoors during the afternoons - the hottest part of the day - and venture out in the evenings when it’s cooler.  My hair got big in the humidity and I remembered how much I missed how my skin feels without dry, baking heat.

BW and I took a detour on the way back to Dallas into the Sam Houston National Forest.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven past it and not even noticed that it was there but we turned down a country road and four miles later, we were parked at an abandoned ranger station and trailhead.  The loop trail was waterlogged and after winding past an empty helipad, we were stopped by a pond that had decided to extend far beyond its reach and drown said trail.  BW, ever the Eagle Scout, pointed out tiny frogs no bigger than a dime and raspberries growing in the bushes.  I was distracted because a) I needed to pee and b) I wanted to get to Buc-ees for some beaver nuggets and jerky.  And even despite my distraction, I still spotted three deer on the side of the road - before BW and the woodsman / hunter that he is - so ha.

I feel embarrassed and guilty for being gone from Houston so long and neglecting my friends there.  The babies have grown up faster than I thought was physically possible and will be going off to college soon (isn’t that how it works with children?).  Another trip is on the horizon, to the north this time, but since Space City is only a short drive away, maybe I’ll have to make a spontaneous visit sometime.  I’ll just remember to bring my boat.